Empathy is the Ultimate Neutrality

TODAY THERE ARE THOSE WHO believe that empathy is a solution to our social problems. They tell us that the indignities suffered by minorities and oppressed groups could be resolved if only we in the majority would empathize more, and in their vision of a better society, there would be abundance of caring and kindness between its members.

How could you disagree? The cognitive scientist Paul Bloom will soon publish a book that looks at the consequences of empathy and concludes that reason is a better guide for social policy.

Empathy turns out to have some undesirable side effects, like a desire for retribution on behalf of victims without regard for long-term consequences. Or the identifiable victim effect, which causes us to react to the plight of individuals more strongly than to the suffering of vast numbers. There are some other concerns, but on the whole, they are pragmatic considerations that ask whether empathy is effective or not. But another kind of critique is possible.